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This article is about the demographic features of the population of Lebanon, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

About 91% of the population of Lebanon includes numerous Christian and Muslim sects. Because the matter of religious balance is a sensitive political issue, a national census has not been conducted since 1932, before the founding of the modern Lebanese state. Consequently there is an absence of accurate data on the relative percentages of the population of the major religions and groups.[1]


Ethnic groups


The Lebanese

Three Lebanese women, 1873.

Ethnic background is an important factor in Lebanon. The country encompasses a great mix of cultural, religious, and ethnic groups which have been building up for more than 6,000 years. Although most of the population is today considered Arab, in the sense that Arabic is the national language, the ethnic self-designations vary. The Arabs only reached Lebanon in the 7th century, and their culture was superimposed on an already diverse population. Lebanese are overall genetically similar to the Phoenicians, and the Canaanites, as well as other modern Levantine populations, such as Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians.[2] The question of ethnic identity has come to revolve more around aspects of cultural self-identification more than descent. Religious affiliation has also become a substitute in some respects for ethnic affiliation.[3]

Generally it can be said that all religious sects comprise many different ethnic backgrounds, and that clear ethnic boundaries are difficult to define. Still, religious and ethnic distinctions sometimes coincide, since religious sects have tended to marry within the group, thus preserving not only religious but ethnic characteristics. Also, one could claim that over time many of the religious sects have evolved into ethnic communities in their own right; the Druze are a prime example of this.[citation needed]

Many Lebanese, especially among Maronite Christians and in some cases the Druze and some Muslims, see themselves as descendants of the Phoenicians/Canaanites (recently supported by genetic studies, though it applies to Lebanese as a whole as well as some neighbouring populations) [2] and tend to de-emphasize or deny Lebanon's Arab heritage. Melkite Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and some Maronites tend to focus more on the Greek or Aramaic/Syriac heritage of the region from the days of the Byzantine Empire, and the fact that Greek was maintained as a liturgical language until very recently. Some Christians even claim partial descent from Crusader knights who ruled Lebanon for a couple of centuries during the Middle Ages, also backed by recent genetic studies. This identification with non-Arab civilizations also exists in other religious communities, albeit not to the same extent. Many Muslims, as well as some Greek Orthodox and rural Roman Catholic Christians, tend to simply consider themselves as Arabs.[4]

Palestinian refugees

Palestinians celebrating in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, 2005.

402,582 desecendants of Palestinian refugees were registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in March 2005, almost all refugees or descendants of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Some of these may have emigrated during the civil war, but there are no reliable figures available. There are also a number of Palestinians who are not registered as UNRWA refugees, because they left earlier than 1948 or were not in need of material assistance. The exact number of Palestinians remain a subject of great dispute and the Lebanese government will not provide an estimate. A figure of 400,000 Palestinian refugees would mean that Palestinians constitute more than 10% of the resident population of Lebanon.

Their presence is controversial, and resisted by large segments of the Christian population, who argue that the primarily Sunni Muslim Palestinians dilute Christian numbers. Many Shi'a Muslims also look unfavorably upon the Palestinian presence, since the camps have tended to be concentrated in their home areas. The Lebanese Sunnis, however, would be happy to see these Palestinians given the Lebanese nationality, thus increasing the Lebanese Sunni polpulation by well over 10% and tipping the fragile electoral balance much in favor of the Sunnis. Late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri—himself a Sunni—had hinted on more than one occasion on the inevitability of granting these refugees Lebanese citizenship. Thus far the refugees are denied citizenship as well as many rights enjoyed by the rest of the population, and are confined to severely overcrowded refugee camps, in which construction rights are severely constricted. Palestinians can't work in a large number of professions, such as lawyers, doctors, etc. However, after negotiations between Lebanese authorities and ministers from the Palestinian National Authority some professions for Palestinians were allowed (taxi driver, construction worker, etc..). The material situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is difficult, and they are believed to constitute the poorest community in Lebanon, as well as the poorest Palestinian community with the possible exception of Gaza refugees. Their primary sources of income are UNRWA aid and menial labor sought in competition with Syrian guest workers.

The Palestinians are almost totally Sunni Muslim, though at some point Christians counted as high as 40% with Muslims at 60%. The numbers of Palestinian Christians has diminished in later years, as many have managed to leave Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War, Palestinian Christians sided with the rest of the Palestinian community, instead of allying with Lebanese Greek Orthodox or other Christian communities.

60,000 Palestinians have received Lebanese citizenship, including most Christian Palestinians.[5][6]

Other immigrants and ethnic groups

There are substantial numbers of immigrants from other Arab countries and non-Arab-speaking Muslim countries, such as Iran, and Afghanistan. Also, recent years have seen an influx of people from Ethiopia [7] and South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka[8], as well as smaller numbers of other immigrant minorities, Colombians and Brazilians (of Lebanese descent themselves). Most of these are employed as guest workers in the same fashion as Syrians and Palestinians, and entered the country to search for employment in the post-war reconstruction of Lebanon. Apart from the Palestinians, there are approximately 180,000 stateless persons in Lebanon.

Lebanese Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Persians and Kurds form more distinct ethnic minorities, all of them in possession of a separate languages and two of them, a national home area outside of Lebanon. However, they total less than 7% of the population.

Due to the US-led invasion of Iraq, Lebanon has received a mass influx of Iraqi refugees numbering at around 100,000. The vast majority of them are undocumented, with a large number having been deported or put in prison.[9]

There are an estimated 40,000 people of Assyrian descent in Lebanon [10][11]. They belong to various Syriac denominations, including the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

During European colonialism, there was a fairly large French minority. Most of French settlers left after Lebanese independence in 1943. Their most important colonial influence is the frequent use of French language.

Religious groups of Lebanon

The sectarian system

Lebanon's religious divisions are extremely complicated, and the country is made up by a multitude of religious groupings. The ecclesiastical and demographic patterns of the sects are complex. Divisions and rivalries between groups date back as far as 15 centuries, and still are a factor today. The pattern of settlement has changed little since the 7th century, but instances of civil strife and ethnic cleansing – most recently during the Lebanese Civil War – has brought some important changes to the religious map of the country. (See also History of Lebanon.)

Lebanon has by far the largest proportion of Christians of any Arab country, but both Christians and Muslims are sub-divided into many splinter sects. All population statistics are by necessity controversial, and all sects have a vested interest in inflating their own numbers. It is not uncommon to hear Sunnis, Shi'as and Maronites (the three largest sects) claim that their particular religious affiliation holds a majority in the country – adding up to over 150% of the total population, even before counting the other sects. One of the rare things that most Lebanese religious leaders will agree on is to avoid a new general census, out of fear that it could trigger a new round of sectarian conflict. The last official census was performed in 1932.

Religion has traditionally been of overriding importance in defining the Lebanese population. Dividing state power between the religious sects, and granting religious authorities judicial power, dates back to Ottoman times (the millet system). The practice was reinforced during French mandate, when Christian groups were granted privileges. This system of government, while partly intended as a compromise between sectarian demands, has caused tensions that still dominate Lebanese politics to this day. The Christian population majority is believed to have ended in the early 1930s, but government leaders would agree to no change in the political power balance. This led to Muslim demands of increased representation, and the constant sectarian tension slid into violent conflict in 1958 (prompting U.S. intervention) and again in the grueling Lebanese Civil War, in 1975–90.

The balance of power has been slightly adjusted in the 1943 National Pact, an informal agreement struck at independence, in which positions of power were divided according to the 1932 census. The Sunni elite was then accorded more power, but Maronites continued to dominate the system. The sectarian balance was again adjusted towards the Muslim side – but simultaneously further reinforced and legitimized . Shi'a Muslims (by now the largest sect) then gained additional representation in the state apparatus, and the obligatory Christian-Muslim representation in Parliament was downgraded from a 6:5 to a 1:1 proportion. Christians of various sects were then generally thought to constitute about 40% of the population, although often Muslim leaders would cite lower numbers, and some Christians would claim that they still held a majority of the population.

The 18 recognized sects

The present Lebanese Constitution officially acknowledges 18 religious groups (see below). These have the right to handle family law according to their own courts and traditions, and they are the basic players in Lebanon's complex sectarian politics. Still, it is important to note that these groups are not internally homogeneous; for example, the Maronite, Shi'a and Druze communities have been wracked by internal fighting even in recent times.

Religious population statistics

An approximation of the distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups, 1991

Note: stateless Palestinians and Syrians are not included in the statistics below since they do not hold Lebanese citizenship. The numbers only include the present population of Lebanon, and not the Lebanese diaspora.

The 1932 census stated that Christians made up 54% of the population. Maronites, largest among the Christian sects and then largely in control of the state apparatus, accounted for 29% of the total resident population. But since the 19th century, Muslim birth rates have been continually higher than Christian birth rates. Also, far larger numbers of Christians emigrated from Lebanon than Muslims. Data varies over time, as of 1985 an estimated data showed Muslims 75% (including Shia, Sunni and Druze) and Christians 25% (Maronite, Orthodox and others).[12] And according to more recent statistics by the CIA Factbook, 59.7% of the Lebanese population are Muslims, while 40% are Christians.[13]


Today, there is general consensus that Muslims constitute a solid majority of the population. According to the CIA World Factbook The Muslim population is estimated at 59.7% (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri).[13] Sectarian Breakdown:

  • Shi'a Muslims are 35%[14] or 25%[15] of the total population. Shia's are the only sect eligible for the post of Speaker of Parliament.
  • Sunni Muslims constitute 24%[14] or 25%[15] of the total population. Sunni notables traditionally held power in the Lebanese state together, and they are still the only sect eligible for the post of Prime Minister.
  • The Druze constitute 5% of the population.
  • Other Muslim sects have a small presence, with the Isma'ilis and Alawites combined comprising less than 1% of the population.


Today, it is estimated that the Christian population makes up about 39%[13] (or 43%[14]) of the total population.

  • The Maronites are the largest of the Christian groups. They have had a long and continuous association with the Roman Catholic Church, but have their own patriarch, liturgy, and customs. Traditionally they had good relations with the Western world, especially France and the Vatican.[citation needed] They traditionally dominated the Lebanese government, and the President of Lebanon is always Maronite. Their influence in later years has diminished, due to their relative decrease in numbers, but also due to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which generally benefited Shi'a and other Muslim communities, and was resisted by most Maronites. Today the Maronites are believed to compose nearly 25.2% of the population, scattered around the Lebanese countryside but with heavy concentrations on Mount Lebanon and in Beirut.
  • The second largest Christian group is the Greek Orthodox. The church exists in many parts of the Arab world and Greek Orthodox Christians have often been noted for pan-Arab or pan-Syrian leanings; it has had less dealings with Western countries than the Maronites. They are believed to constitute about 7.8% of the total population, not counting the Palestinian Greek Orthodox community.
  • The remaining Christian churches are thought to constitute another 9% (350,000) of the population (Greek Catholics i.e. Melkites about 200,000, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Assyrians, Protestants) with no single group over 5% of the total population. Please refer to their articles in the list above, for more information.

Other religions

Other religions account for only an estimated 1.3% of the population, according to the CIA Factbook. There remains a very small Jewish population, traditionally centered in Beirut. It has been larger – most Jews left the country after the 1975–1990 civil war. Add to this some negligible numbers of native Bahá'ís, Buddhists, and Hindus, of long since-naturalized immigrant families. New immigrants from South East Asia have recently brought in larger numbers of Buddhists and Hindus, and small populations of other immigrant religions are also present.

The Lebanese diaspora

Apart from the three and a half million citizens of Lebanon proper, there is a sizeable Lebanese diaspora. No accurate numbers are available, so estimates on the total size of the diaspora vary wildly, from conservative estimates of 4–5 million to a maximum, and probably inflated, figure of 15 million. Most Lebanese emigrants and their descendants are Christian. Lebanese Christian families are economically and politically prominent in several Latin American countries (in 2007 Mexican Carlos Slim Helú, son of Lebanese immigrants, was determined to be the wealthiest man in the World by Fortune Magazine), and make up a substantial portion of the Arab American community in the United States. The largest Lebanese diaspora is located in Brazil, where about 6–7 million people have Lebanese descent (see Arab Brazilian).

The large size of Lebanon's diaspora may be partly explained by the historical and cultural tradition of sea-faring and traveling, which stretches back to Lebanon's ancient Phoenician origins and its role as a "gateway" of relations between Europe and the Middle East. It has been commonplace for Lebanese citizens to emigrate in search of economic prosperity. Furthermore, on several occasions in the last two centuries the Lebanese population has endured periods of ethnic cleansing and displacement (for example, 1840–60 and 1975–90). These factors have contributed to the geographical mobility of the Lebanese people.

While under Syrian occupation, Beirut passed legislation which prevented second-generation Lebanese of the diaspora from automatically obtaining Lebanese citizenship. This has reinforced the émigré status of many diaspora Lebanese. There is currently a campaign by those Lebanese of the diaspora who already have Lebanese citizenship to attain the vote from abroad. If suffrage was to be extended to these 1.2 million Lebanese émigré citizens, it would have a significant political effect, since as many as 90% of them are believed to be Christian.

Civil war refugees and displaced persons

With no official figures available, it is estimated that 600,000–900,000 persons fled the country during the civil war (1975–90). Although some have since returned, this permanently disturbed Lebanese population growth, and has greatly complicated demographic statistics.

Another result of the war was a large number of internally displaced persons. This especially affected the southern Shi'a community, as Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 1996 prompted waves of mass emigration, in addition to the continual strain of occupation and fighting between Israel and Hizbullah (mainly 1982 to 2000). Many Shi'a resettled in hastily constructed slum suburbs south of Beirut, the so-called "belt of misery". After the war, the pace of Christian emigration accelerated, as many Christians felt discriminated against in a Lebanon under increasingly oppressive Syrian occupation.

Languages in Lebanon

Commonly spoken languages in Lebanon include Arabic (official), French, English, and Armenian.

CIA World Factbook demographic statistics

Demographics of Lebanon, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated.

  • Population:
Total population: 3,826,018 (July 2005 est.)
  • Age structure:
0-14 years: 26.7% (male 520,270; female 499,609)
15-64 years: 66.4% (male 1,216,738; female 1,324,031)
65 years and over: 6.9% (male 120,176; female 145,194) (2005 est.)
  • Median age:
Total: 27.34 years
Male: 26.28 years
Female: 28.43 years (2005 est.)
  • Population growth rate:
1.26% (2005 est.)
  • Birth rate:
18.88 births/1,000 population (2005 est.)
  • Death rate:
6.24 deaths/1,000 population (2005 est.)
  • Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2005 est.)
  • Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.92 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female
total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2005 est.)
  • Infant mortality rate:
total: 24.52 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 27.18 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 21.71 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)
  • Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 72.63 years
male: 70.17 years
female: 75.21 years (2005 est.)
  • Total fertility rate:
1.92 children born/woman (2005 est.)

Marginalized portions of society

According to a UNDP study, as much as 10% of the Lebanese had a disability in 1990.[16] Other studies have pointed to the fact that this portion of society is highly marganilized due to the lack of educational and governmental support of their advancement.[16]


  1. ^ "International Religkjhkjlkjljlkjlkjlkjlkj l;lk;klklm;l,anon". 2001 Report on International Religious Freedom. US Department of State. October 26, 2001. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  2. ^ a b Franklin-Barbajosa, Cassandra (October 2004). "In the Wake of the Phoenicians: DNA study reveals a Phoenician-Maltese link". National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  3. ^ "Sectarian and Clan Consciousness – Lebanon". Country Studies. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  4. ^ "Lebanese Confessional Societies". Country Studies. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  5. ^
  6. ^,4565c2258,465467da2,3ae6abc95b,0.html
  7. ^ "IOM Steps Up Evacuation of Stranded Migrants from Lebanon". International Organization for Migration. July 26, 2006. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  8. ^ "CBC News In Depth: Middle East in Crisis – Canada and Lebanon, a special tie". CBC News. August 1, 2006. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  9. ^ Assir, Serene (September 4, 2007). "Invisible Lives:Iraqis In Lebanon". Assyrian International News Agency. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  10. ^ Kjeilen, Tore. "Lebanon: Religions & Peoples". LookLex Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  11. ^ Kjeilen, Tore. "Assyrian people". LookLex Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  12. ^ [1] Contemporary Distribution of Lebanon's Major Religions
  13. ^ a b c "CIA, World Factbook, Lebanon – People". Central Intelligence Agency. December 18 , 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  14. ^ a b c "The New York Times – Major Attacks in Lebanon, Israel and the Gaza Strip". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  15. ^ a b "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 – Lebanon". 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom. US Departement of State. September 19, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  16. ^ a b LEBANON: Disabled remain marginalised, study finds, IRIN. Accessed August 6, 2009.


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